“Even though I was in favor of his promotion, now that he got it, I’m worried.”
Office politics and their inherent difficulties–thus began a recent executive coaching session with one of my clients.
Here were the dynamics of the situation: My client had two peers (each is a VP) all with different responsibilities, but all part of the same division of the firm, and each reporting to the COO.
My client had been in favor of the promotion of his peer, who he respected and enjoyed working with.
Once that promotion happened, my client soon realized that there was a chance he would end up reporting to his former peer and thus lose significant power within the organization.
In other words, while his title was the same, he faced a demotion in terms of power and influence. Yet no changes in reporting structure had yet been announced.
This situation left him with a choice:
- Promote the consolidation of his group under his former peer (which would leave him insulated from the somewhat mercurial and aggressive COO) or
- Actively seek to maintain his status reporting to the COO directly
Dealing with office politics
Regardless of his choice, the key steps for him to follow are the same. He needs to actively influence the stakeholders around him so that they seek the same outcome he wants.
The key to this is to understand their points of view and then demonstrate why the outcome he wants maximizes their individual benefit.
In other words, he has to outline the benefits of the outcomes he wants and emphasize the fears each individual may have around the other outcome.
For example, if my client wanted to maintain the status quo (reporting to the COO), the benefits to the COO might include:
- Continued direct access to my client
- Greater insights into my client’s side of the business
- The ability to manage my client directly
The fears that the COO may have around the other outcome may include:
- Is the newly promoted person able to manage the remaining VPs effectively?
- Will I still have access to the information I need from the VPs if they have to go through someone else?
- Will the VPs get the development they need from the newly promoted leader?
(Note that the COO would benefit significantly from a simpler reporting structure, so this also needs to be considered.)
Of course, the move is for my client to then work in the above issues into planned conversations with the COO to increase their alignment on the issue. For example saying, “I’m glad we have these opportunities to talk directly to that you can understand the details of my business.”
Then the next move is to influence his newly promoted peer. For example, pointing out how much tougher his job would be if he needed to oversee two additional groups, etc. (i.e. a raise with incremental responsibility is far better than one with heaps of additional responsibility).
Office politics are a balancing act
The point is absolutely NOT to undermine the newly promoted colleague, but rather to see if you can influence the stakeholders around you so that they can see that what is in your best interest is also in their best interest.
Let me emphasize that point. This is not about instilling doubts about someone else’s ability to get the outcome you want. While some executives have built their careers on such activity, I would not recommend it.
What I am saying is that you can influence the situation you find yourself in significantly by thinking about how what you want benefits others and then actively campaigning for it.
In the situation I described above, if my client wants to maintain the status quo, the best way to do that is in an environment where everyone wants to maintain the status quo. He just needs to use his persuasive ability to make sure that is the case.